Antique, Vintage or Just Plain Old?

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure!

Indeed this statement is so true! Have you ever heard the stories of the families that had a special item at home that they were absolutely SURE would make them an overnight millionaire because it belonged to great-grandmother Betty who said it was a special antique family heirloom?

Well great-grandmother Betty told Grandy Bruce, who told his daughter Alice, who then told her niece Bertha it was special and had been in the family for generations. The item was taken to be appraised only to revel that it had indeed been in the family for generations, but was worth absolutely nothing apart from the knowledge it was special.

So how do you know that your old family antiques are actually antiques and not just… old?


What is an Antique?

Today everything seems to be called an antique!

Generally speaking, an antique is any work of art, piece of furniture, decorative object etc., valued for its aesthetic or historical significance and created or produced in a former period of at least 100 years before the date of purchase. There is also a quality standard in this definition that is not just dependent on age: while it is acceptable to repair or restore an antique, the item must retain its original character and be less than 50% restored to be considered a real antique.

While the age of an item does contribute to whether or not it is an antique, there are many other factors. Antiques are generally collectible items – if your ‘antique’ is 125 years old but no one wants it except you, then it really has no value apart from sentimental. I have a desk that my great-great-grandfather, built in Italy and shipped to Australia with my grandfather who gave it to me. It’s plain, simple and I love it. It is worthless – despite its age, no one wants it except me.

Antiques must also be rare! For Example, A 1611 King James Bible First Edition is 393 years old and there are 200 copies known to exist. It is rare because there aren’t thousands upon thousands out there.


If an item is Vintage, can it also be Antique?

Many people consider that if an item is vintage, it must also be an antique. Sometimes this is true, but not always!

Vintage has several definitions which can lead to confusion. The term “vintage” was originally derived from the dating on a bottle of wine, where the vintage date, or the date the grapes were grown, provided added information about the value of the wine.

Another definition implies that the item is of a fashion that was popular in a different era.

“The word “vintage” may not even mean that it was produced in that era, but that the item mimics what was fashionable in the particular era. This can cause trouble as most people expect the word “vintage” to mean more when applied to something that is being bought or sold.”

Many people expect the word “vintage” to have a standard date applied like with the grapes for wine. Experts have argued that the term can apply to items that are over 50 years old, but less than 100. This kind of works when dealing with old, but not antique items, but falls short when using the term to describe something newer and from a specific era. If an item is said to be vintage, then it should (technically) state the year or the era in which it was made. For many items, the word “vintage” used in this way refers to the year or era that the item first became popular.

What’s the Value of my Antique or Vintage Item?

The value of an antique is made up of several components:

The value of an item is NOT the same as its rarity. For example, a four-leaf-clover is very rare. It is a genetic anomaly which occurs in 1 out of 2200 clovers. What is the value of this very rare item? Good luck selling it for $5! It has rarity, but little actual value.

Looking at my opening statement, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” we find that the value placed on any given item is somewhat dependent on the value an individual places upon it. My desk is old and unique and has considerable personal value to me, but to a professional – it’s just plain old. A nice family heirloom, but with no market or sell-able value.

How do I find out more about my Antique or Vintage Item?

You can get your items appraised by a professional! They will (for a fee) be able to tell you more about the history or origins of your item.

Alternatively, the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology has a delightful upcoming event called the Abbey Open Day and Boutique Markets on Saturday 18th of November from 10.00 am til 2.00 pm. Not only will the Abbey Museum be offering free entry to the Museum and Christmas Market stalls to peruse, but if you have an item and you are unsure of its origins or history, bring it along and the Museum’s very own Senior Curator, Michael Strong will endeavour to help you identify the who, what, when and where of your special item!

Your antique family heirloom may turn out to have a deeply historical past! Imagine what that item has seen in its life! Then again it might just end up being an awesome but totally mass-produced souvenir with no significant history, that your great-great-great-great-grandmother felt was special.

You just never know!